Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

The New Conservatism II

In the last post I discussed why the Right is on the defensive and losing ground in today's society.  I also noted that challenging the Left's underlying assumption for so much of its ideology, that government is a competent controller of society, needs to be challenged and debunked if the Right is to reverse that trend.
In this post I would like to discuss a further idea that the Right needs to build on in order to re-establish its influence in society and, oddly enough, it's a idea usually associated with the Left.
Modern liberalism, through the pervasive presence of the nanny state, emphasizes the idea of communal responsibility.  Certainly when it comes to taxing the successful members of society this concept is invoked: the rich have the responsibility to look after the poor.
The Right needs to co-opt this idea which I feel is surprising available for the taking.  While the Left talks about the community its encouragement of a culture of entitlements and rights actually promotes the community's fragmentation.  If all I really care about, as a citizen, is what's coming to me without concern for the consequences, then I develop a lack of global vision.  I want my benefits and I don't care if it means my neighbour will suffer.  Gimme, gimme, gimme.
In response, conservatives need to push a society vision which includes all citizens.  What is the goal of the society we live in?  What is the common purpose of our country?  What is the justification for its existence?  Why does the world need it around and how to we contribute to it?
Here's an example: US President Calvin Coolige famously said that the business of America is business.  As the centre of the capitalist world, America is about building capital, both personal and national wealth.  This idea, the complement to the slogan about being the land of opportunity, is lost when the Left's culture of entitlements and rights above responsibilities becomes dominant.  In a Leftist culture the predominant behaviour is the consumption of capital without thought as to how to produce it in the first place.  This is the antithesis of the worldview that led to the dominance of the Western world.
It sounds almost communist but the Right needs to start discussing the responsibility of the individual citizen towards sustainable productivity.  This responsibility can be promoted in ways that make it attractive to the greater society.
Using these ideas, the Right can challenge the Left on a host of social, financial and political issues.
Consider the health care system.  The idea that the state should fund and control a good chunk of healthcare is accepted by populations in the West.  Should government coverage be unlimited and free to all citizens like in Canada or targeted to the poor and elderly with the rest being privately covered like in the US?  Is the best model the European system of parallel public and private systems?  A conservative answer would be based on the idea that it is in society's interest to ensure that those who genuinely cannot afford healthcare are covered in order to promote public health.  It is also in society's interest to ensure coverage for healthcare for all citizens for common and serious conditions.  In the interest of encouraging responsibility in addition to rights, as mentioned in the last post, the conservative health care system may demand co-payments or a restricted access to resources for those people who engage in injurious behaviours.   This could take the form of special health taxes on those foods universally recognized to be unhealthy or access fees to the system for smokers when they have smoking related ailments.
Consider the welfare system.  Social assistance for the downtrodden of society is in the interest of the greater good.  Endless welfare payments for folks who have adjusted to the welfare lifestyle and have no intention of returning to work in any form is not.  Thus conservatives should support a welfare system that demands and funds retraining for the unemployed in order to return them to the workforce.
What about higher education?  In Canada there are two major post-secondary systems - university and college.  Universities are for higher education and the homes of professional schools such as medicine and accounting.  Colleges are trade schools teaching practical occupations.  There is no question that a college graduate is far more likely to find employment upon completing his degree than a university graduate is.   It would therefore be in the conservative interest for governments to fund colleges to the point that tuition levels would be affordable to the majority of the population while allowing university tuition to rise in order to discourage the vast numbers of students who are attending to get their BA in post-medieval English lit with a minor in basket weaving.
How this applies to Israel will be dealt with next.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

The New Conservatism

Being conservative isn't easy right now.  On the Canadian side of the border people seem to be in thrall to the boy king, Justin Trudeau and his shirtless adventures.  Despite surviving the last election in better than expected condition, the Conservative party of Canada seems to become more irrelevant every day, its once talented benches now filled with boring, faceless members.  People are in love with Justin's meaningless bromides and laugh at his every joke even as he systematically dismantles every initiative from the previous Conservative government for the sole reason that it was an initiative by the Conservative government.
South of the border the situation is even worse.  Donald Trump has hijacked the Republican party and brought in legions of the worst sort, Neo-nazis and similar ilk in his attempts to destroy the party and throw the election to ensure Hillary Clinton wins despite her abysmal personal ratings.  Calling yourself conservative in the US seems to get you associated with these slack-jawed yokels and their despicable leader.
What is needed is a crushing defeat for the Republicans in November and some real soul-searching for the Conservatives in Canada in order to rebuild the parties along new lines.  Conservativism in the last couple of decades has morphed from a classical political movement into a reactionary ideology with limited ideas and a minimal vision.  True conservatives have to retake centre stage, oust the ideologues and reassert a proper program for the electorate to consider before they can court true electoral success and societal influence again.
What should this new conservativism look like?  Any movement needs an overall vision, something simple upon which to base all the various ideas and initiatives that will come after.  I propose the following: the current battle between Left and Right is a battle between rights and responsibilities.  The Left has been promoting an agenda for decades based on rights, on the individual taking from society without any need to pay back.  People are told they have rights and entitlements and are encouraged to line up and demand them at every opportunity.  As a result we have a society in perpetual debt.  People have lost the ability to budget, to self-constrain, to say no to themselves (although they retain a surprisingly strong ability to say it to others).  As a physician I see this all the time.  I want to prescribe a medication that is appropriate and the patient immediately inquires as to whether his drug plan will cover it, making it very clear that if it isn't he won't since he doesn't have the finances.  He smokes, drinks on a regular basis, has a cell phone and hi speed internet but doesn't have the money for medications and doesn't think he should because society has taught him to believe he is entitled to anything he needs medically.  Corporate North America has bought into this as well.  Once upon a time we had to wait until December 27 to begin Boxing Day shopping.  Now the internet allows people to begin their post-holiday shopping on the December 25 holiday itself.  Easy credit, don't pay for 12-18 months, put yourself into debt and with interest rates so low you never have to worry about digging yourself out of it.  You are entitled to that, says the Left.
The first difficulty of the Right is combating this attitude.  Obviously a head on confrontation is not appropriate.  Imagine a parent offering unlimited candy and no need to do any chores facing off against a parent who wants beds made, vegetables eaten and homework done on time.  We all know the latter parent is the better one and that following her advice will lead to better outcomes in the long term but if we've been raised as spoiled brats with no sense of self-denial we will side with the candy-toting parent every time.  A Right political party preaching about less government services, more self-reliance and the like will get pummelled in a general election by an electorate that is used to the two sides competing to see who can offer more free goodies.  Telling people to be responsible for themselves when they are already used to the gentle caress of the nanny state will lead nowhere.
Instead the Right needs to offer a different emphasis.  The first is to hammer home a simple message: government is not a better solution to anything.  We are often told by the Left as it seeks to expand government control over our lives that the nanny state is better at handling certain matters.  Obama's famous "You didn't build it" statement is the classic motto.  The assumption is that my business is successful because I use roads the government built, programs the government paid for, seek protection under government laws, and so on.  At every point the Left attempts to convince folks that the reason for their increasing encroachment is because of the rapacious nature of the private sector.  Yet time and time again we see examples of government corruption that dwarf any crimes the private sector could commit.  A look at Hillary Clinton's recent e-mail scandal in which the FBI admitted that she had committed criminal offences but that they weren't going to charge her (after her husband coincidentally met with the Attorney General, hmmmmmm) proves that.  The private sectors cuts services to maximize profit?  The government blows billions in kickbacks and diversions which leads to more national and provincial debt while becoming more incompetent at providing the basic services that it says only it can truly provide.
The first emphasis of the Right is to combat this myth aggressively.  When people talk about how great the nanny state is, there needs to be a pushback pointing out its waste, corruption and lack of ability to deliver on its promises.  Success stories from the private industry need to be put up against government graft and cronyism and people need to be told that their assumptions are lies they believe simply because they've been told them for so long.
With this first push the Right can get back into the conversation instead of playing defence while losing market share.
More to come....

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The Fist Behind The Smile

If there's a strong force within Orthodoxy today, it's Chabad-Lubavitch.  A few decades ago they were a small chasidic clan with a deep and esoteric Jewish philosophy.  Today many consider them the de facto face of Torah Judaism.  Under the leadership of their last Rebbe, z"l, they expanded to become a worldwide kiruv empire dedicated to spreading their brand of Judaism to any Jews they could find while attempting to bring as many of our brethren back to Judaism as they could.  It's rare to find a mid-size town or university without a Chabad House next to it, never mind in the bigger centres.  There are countless stories about shluchim and their families, about the efforts they'll make to reach out to disaffected and disconnected Jews and, through warmth and kindness, bring them closer to Judaism.
It's all such a well-woven tale that sometimes we forget that, in many ways, Chabad Lubavtich is actually Lubavitch Inc., a billion dollar company.  And just as not employee at Canadian Tire or Best Buy is a helpful salesperson, so too not everyone within Lubavitch is a genuinely outgoing shliach.
A reminder of this has been in the news lately.  The story, in a nutshell, seems simple enough.  A large Modern Orthodox congregation in Crown Heights, the home neighbourhood of Lubavitchers everywhere, recently erected an eiruv in its part of town to accomodate its growing population of young families with young children who get around in strollers.  The alternative to an eiruv is forcing mothers to stay at home all Shabbos long with their children because of the prohibitions on carrying in the absence of an eiruv.  Since its erection the Lubavitchers in the neighbourhood have openly stated their opposition to its existence leading to tension between the two communities.
The reasons for the Lubavitcher opposition are well known.  First of all, due to their fetish for any chumros they kind find in "seforim" they will not hold by anyone else's standards than their own.  This includes eiruvim.  They didn't put it up so it's not good enough for them.  Secondly, and more importantly, the Rebbe apparently decided that a major highway going through Crown Heights has the status of a reshus harabim which means no eiruv can be set up if it crosses that road.  This has led to a Lubavitch position that Crown Heights cannot have a public eiruv.
In a reasonable world, the outcome of this situation would be simple.  The Lubavitchers would announce that they don't consider the eiruv valid and advise their members not to carry on Shabbos just as they've always not carried.  The Modern Orthodox community would announce that they consider the eiruv valid and that anyone who holds by it can carry within its boundaries on Shabbos.
As we know so well, we do not live in a perfect world.  The authorities in Lubavitch have indeed announced that they consider the eiruv invalid but in addition to advising their own community not to abide by it they have gone further and demanded that the Modern Orthodox in Crown Heights also renounce it and not use it to carry on Shabbos.  Why?  Because their Rebbe said Crown Heights can't have an eiruv so therefore no one, even non-Lubavitchers, can have one there.
Here's where the hidden fist behind the smile comes in.  Yes, Lubavitch spreads Judaism around the globe but it's their brand of Judaism, based on twin pillars of Chabad philosophy and Rebbe-as-Moshiach ideology.  They are uncompromising in their approach to the point of relegated other Chareidi philosophies as second best and non-Chareidi Orthodox positions as invalid or illegitimate.  While they get along well enough with other Chasidim and with some Yeshivish folks, they harbor a strong disregard for non-Chareidi Orthodoxy because such practice demonstrates a version of Torah Judaism from their own at the same time that they are trying to convince folks that their version of Torah Judaism is the only real one.
 One might suppose that this is what is happening here.  For a very long time Crown Heights' Jewish community has been synonymous with Lubavitch.  It has now grown beyond that but perhaps the powers that be in 770 want Lubavitch rules to still be the system that governs everyone living there.  As a result they have dropped the friendly mask in a bid to enforce their version of the rules on those who aren't even part of their community.
Folks following the news on Lubavitch out of Australia know the troubles they're in down there with the ongoing revelations of child abuse and pedophlia in their yeshivos.  It's interesting, others have noted, that Lubavitch seems more outraged with other folks using an eiruv than with their own people committing terrible crimes.
It also should cast a new light on your local shaliach the next time he approaches you for a donation or to tell you about his latest farbrengen.  What exactly is hiding behind his smile?